Horn of Africa

US troops for Libya, escalation in Somalia

The US military will keep an unspecified number of ground troops in Libya to help local forces further degrade the ISIS faction there, and also seeks greater scope to target insurgents in Somalia, Africa Command chief Gen. Thomas Waldhauser told reporters at the Pentagon March 24. "We're going to maintain a force that has the ability to develop intelligence, work with various groups as required, or be able to assist if required...to take out ISIS targets," said Gen. Waldhauser, boasting that the ISIS presence in coastal Libya has fallen below 200 from an estimated 5,000 only a year ago. In Somalia, where al-Qaeda affiliate Shabaab remains a threat, Waldhauser hopes the Trump White House will loosen rules of engagement established by the Obama administration to avoid "collateral damage." "I think the combatant commanders, myself included, are more than capable of making judgments and determinations on some of these targets," he said. (Military Times, March 24)

Middle East may become uninhabitable: FAO

New evidence is deepening fears in the scientific community that the Middle East and North Africa risk becoming uninhabitable in a few decades, as accessible fresh water has fallen by two-thirds over the past 40 years. Already, per capita availability of fresh water in the region—encompassing 22 countries and home to nearly 400 million inhabitants—is 10 times lower than the world average. The region's fresh water resources are among the lowest in the world, and are expected to fall over 50% by 2050, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). By century's end, higher temperatures may shorten growing seasons in the region by 18 days and reduce agricultural yields by up to 55%. "Looming water scarcity in the North Africa and Middle East region is a huge challenge requiring an urgent and massive response," said FAO director general Graziano da Silva on his recent visit to Cairo.

Pirates or protesters in Somalia sea stand-off?

The March 13 seizure of an oil tanker en route from Djibouti to Mogadishu—the first such incident since 2012—enflamed global fears of a resurgence of piracy off the coast of Somalia. But the tanker and its Sri Lankan crew were released without ransom or any other conditions March 16—hours after brief a gun battle between the captors and the marine force of Somalia's autonomous region of Puntland, followed by intensive negotiations brokered by local clan elders. International media reports referred to the captors as "pirates," whereas local media in Somalia called them "fishermen." In an interview with Puntland's Radio Garowe via phone to the fishing village of Alula, one hijacker said: "We are fishermen in Alula town, our livelihood destroyed by the illegal trawlers and chemical waste dumping. We were fishing and then we saw the vessel spilling waste in the sea, which reached our coast... We are not pirates as reported by the media. We are protecting our territorial waters from the international ships dumping the toxic and chemical wastes on our coast."

Saudis behind Somali refugee massacre: reports

More than 40 people, including women and children, were killed when an Apache helicopter fired on a boat carrying Somali refugees in the Red Sea off war-torn Yemen March 17. A coast guard officer in the Hodeidah area, controlled by Houthi rebel forces, told Reuters the refugees, carrying UNHCR documents, were on their way from Yemen to Sudan when they were attacked near the Bab al-Mandeb strait. The rebel-controlled Saba news agency accused the Saudi-led coalition of being behind the attack. The coalition immediately released a statement denying responsibility. While the International Organization for Migration said 42 bodies have been recovered, the death toll may be much higher. The UNHCR said 140 passengers were believed to have been aboard the vessel. 

Somali refugees stranded by Trump travel ban

At least 100 Somali refugees previously cleared for resettlement in the US are stranded in Kenya in the wake of President Trump's travel ban. The refugees now face an uncertain future as they wait at a transit center run by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Nairobi. They are mostly from Kenya's Dadaab refugee camp, which currently shelters nearly 300,000 and is considered the world's largest. Trump's order has forced the IOM to cancel "all flights for refugees till further notice," said Christelle van Rosmalen, resettlement officer at the UN refugee agency UNHCR at Dadaab. 

World Court to hear Kenya-Somalia maritime case

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Feb. 2 ruled that it has the authority to adjudicate a dispute over a stretch of water in the Indian Ocean that is potentially laden with oil and gas. Somalia asked (PDF) the ICJ to rule on the dispute in 2014 after negotiations with Kenya broke down over the 100,000-square mile stretch. The ICJ rejected Kenya's claim that a 2009 agreement (PDF) between the two countries to settle the dispute through negotiations deprives the court of jurisdiction in the matter. Kenya's attorney general, Githu Muigaistated: "Kenya maintains the view that litigation can resolve only one aspect of a wide range of complex issues the parties must agree upon." This decision allows the case to proceed, with no date set as of yet for the trial to begin.

Kenya's Shabaab amnesty: 'loaded gun'?

A Kenyan government amnesty for Shabaab militants who renounce violence was supposed include guarantees for security and support for resettlement—generally in marginal areas, such as Majengo district, a low-income suburb of Nairobi. But both the security and aid have been elusive. A Human Rights Watch report in July alleged that security forces "have forcibly disappeared at least 34 people in the past two years during abusive counterterrorism operations in Nairobi and in northeastern Kenya." There are concerns that resettled ex-militants, receiving little aid and vulnerable to reprisal attacks, are ripe for being recuited again into the Somalia-based Shabaab network that now extends into Kenya.

Ethiopia: Amhara protests over land, autonomy

Tens of thousands from Ethiopia's Amhara ethnic group marched in the northern city of Gondar—the largest demonstration yet in a wave of recent protests. Amhara are angered by the government’s decision to place a local district called Welkait (Wolkayit) under the administration of neighboring Tigray region. In videos shared on social media, protesters are seen carrying signs reading: "Stop mass killing of Amhara people" and "Restore the historic border." The demonstration—staged in defiance of a government order—also expressed solidarity with the Oromia protests held between November and March in opposition to a government development plan in the region that could affect poor farmers.

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